The D&D eXPerience (DDXP) kicks off in less than two weeks. Since 2001, I have attended Origins, Gen Con, and DDXP (which was called Winter Fantasy in its previous incarnation), and each of them is fun and unique in its own way. Gen Con is by far the largest and most “glamorous,” and Gen Con is all about the exhibit hall. Any self-respecting game lover can spend the entire convention playing demo games in the exhibit hall and never be bored. Origins is slightly smaller but no less interesting. The exhibit hall is slightly less exciting and eye-popping, but what it lacks in glitz in makes up for in the sheer number of hardcore gamers who you can interact with in a countless number of games. If Gen Con is the Superbowl of gaming, Origins is the NFL Combine: the first may get more attention, but the latter may be more interesting to the hardest of the hardcore.
That leaves DDXP, which might actually be my favorite of the three. DDXP started as an RPGA-only convention, a celebration of D&D and the unique contribution that the RPGA made to the game. It has morphed over time, but it still has that feel: a small convention, dedicated to highlighting the best that D&D has to offer. If D&D Organized Play is your game of choice, DDXP is like Gen Con or Origins, only without all the hassle and at about a quarter of the cost.
First The Bad News
DDXP 2011 was set to be the first Most Interesting Roleplayer in the World tournament, sponsored by Baldman Games and Critical Hits. However, tickets sales have been very slow for the tournament, which is understandable since DDXP caters directly to the fans of organized play events like Living Forgotten Realms and the new Ashes of Athas campaign. It is also the place where Wizards of the Coast highlights upcoming products. (More about those later). So, recognizing that a tournament is less exciting when only a few participate, we have decided to postpone the tournament until Origins. This will provide a varied audience to bring more potential players to the table.
But There is Also Good News
Even without the tournament, there is still far too much to do at DDXP for a mere mortal to handle in a single weekend. I have talked in previous columns about the fun and excitement players can have in an organized-play campaign, and at DDXP is the launch of the brand new Dark Sun campaign called Ashes of Athas. With an admin team comprised of some really great writers and game designers (Chris Sims, Teos Abadia, Chad Brown, and Matt James), Ashes of Athas is going to be a great chance for players to get in on the ground floor of an excellent campaign.
Of course, Living Forgotten Realms events are going to make up the bulk of the content at DDXP. As a former admin of the campaign, I am very interested to see what the campaign is going to look like now that it has been redesigned and given a great deal more autonomy from WotC. In addition to groundbreaking content like the launch of the epic-level play and the new, more adventure-path based content, the highlight of the LFR offerings at DDXP will be the next Battle Interactive. For many people who enjoy organized-play campaigns, battle interactives are the best part of a great thing. Instead of the normal 6 players to 1 DM format of a typical D&D game, battle interactives see the dozens, if not hundreds, of players experiencing the same adventure at the same time. And generally the actions of one table of players (or even one individual player) can have a tremendous impact on the entire experience, if not on the campaign as a whole. Having been on the design and admin side of countless interactives throughout my time in various organized-play campaigns, I am looking forward to maybe actually playing this time.
Although all the organized-play content is what draws most players, what I enjoy most about DDXP is the chance to play games that use new content not yet released by WotC. In the past I have taken part in previews of Dark Sun and Gamma World, and I was fortunate enough this year to get the chance to design the preview adventure, “Kalarel’s Revenge.” This event uses content from three currently unreleased products: Dungeon Tile: Caverns of Icewind Dale, Player Options: Heroes of Shadow, and Monster Vault 2: Threats to the Nentir Vale. I hope it will be as fun for people to play and digest as it was for me to write.
In addition to the games, the WotC team always sends several of their staff to conduct seminars, demo games, and most importantly, just sit and talk with the players. It is always interesting to get the scoop on what WotC is thinking and planning for the future. And it is even more interesting to watch a game designers watch people play their games. Sometimes designers (not just at WotC, but everywhere) are too far removed from the people who consume (and sometimes spit out) the fruit of their labors. I have seen a number of designers have “aha” moments when they see their stuff getting used outside of the sometimes insular and sheltered playtests done by friends and colleagues. DDXP is the kind of convention where you can do more than go to a crowded seminar and watch some fanboy argue with R.A. Salvatore about what Drizzt’s favorite color really is. You can pull up a chair with Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins, Chris Tulach, or Greg Bilsland and pick their brains about anything in the D&D world. And there is only so far they can run in Fort Wayne, Indiana!
In my next column, I will provide an update on my experiences at DDXP, and give a run-down on all that I learned while I was there.
(Editor’s Note: We’ll also have more information about our coverage at DDXP on Monday, including some questions for the readers. Stay tuned.)